This week I published an article on Gaming Rebellion about the current state of betas. I specifically focused on the recent Destiny 2 console beta. Here’s the introduction:
Recently, Bungie hosted a console beta for Destiny 2. Supposedly a PC beta will be hosted sometime in late August before the release on September 6th of this year. I have lived through multiple eras of beta practices, but today it seems like betas are hard to even really define.
When I was a kid, there was no online gaming. Beta testing literally required you to be invited to go to a facility or development studio and try a pre-build of the game. This was such an honor to users and so hard to get into that even just knowing someone who had been in an actual beta was kind of a big deal. Developers valued this feedback and took it seriously. So much so that even though most true gamers would have done them for free, studios would actually pay people to take the time to go their offices and play beta builds. The ultimate purpose of these betas was to collect feedback to help improve the game. They were done well before a game was being released and required you to fill out a large questionnaire or take part in a group discussion after playing the beta, before leaving the studio. Sadly, I never got to take part in any of these personally.
You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.
Last time I posted about how I finally built my gaming PC, but one cannot truly call themselves a PC gamer and by extension a member of the PC Master Race until they have officially completed a game on their rig. Today I do declare my official membership.
I thought it was appropriate to bridge the gap between my pre-Master Race life as a gamer with my newfound gloriousness. So I decided that instead of my initially planned The Witcher 2 as my first PC game on my rig I would complete a game that I had started on my laptop but never finished. I chose Magrunner: Dark Pulse (2013) developed by Frogwares.
I originally tried Magrunner back in 2013 as a demo on PS3. I very much enjoyed the demo. It was like Portal but with magnets. As a fan of level based puzzlers like Portal, I was very interested in playing through the whole game. But I did not want to pay the price they were charging on PS3. I can’t remember the exact price but currently on the PSN store it’s listed as $10 so let’s go with that because I defintely wouldn’t have paid that price. Months later the game was on sale on GOG.com for less than $5. I happily bought it and started it soon after.
I was happy playing Magrunner on my laptop. It wasn’t running perfectly but it was certainly playable. I did not regret the purchase and everything was going quite well. Then I got stuck. There are three types of getting stuck in a game. Not knowing what to do. Not being able to do something. And not being able to do something because of hardware. Often people make the excuse that they are experiencing the third scenario when really they’re experiencing the second. With the advent of YouTube, the first scenario ceased to be a valid reason to get stuck in any game for an extended period of time. I was experiencing the third scenario. This was because my gamepad was not properly syncing to my laptop so I had to program it by hand with MotionJoy to pretend to be a mouse. But the settings were not perfect. I also had minor lag because of a lack of RAM.
Up until the point where I actually did get stuck, these hardware issues were not game breaking. I had to work harder, but the game never got impossible. Then I got to a puzzle that required the highest level of accuracy and speed. Having now completed the game, I will still hold that this particular puzzle was the hardest to execute in the game. It wasn’t the hardest to solve, but actually do it was much hard. I tried and I tried and I tried, but was never able to succeed. You are required to quickly shoot three targets while riding a moving platform in hopes of getting through the door on the other side within the time limit. It was a horrible experience. I just couldn’t do it with my system. Eventually I gave up.
Three years after that happened I finally built a PC and my gamepad works properly. As does my mouse, which I had to switch to occasionally while playing. I beat that puzzle I was stuck on so long in under five minutes. I went on to beat the rest of the game soon after.
I’m so thankful that I was finally able to complete that game. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as gaming redemption. I have completed Magrunner: Dark Pulse and can now officially call my self a PC gamer. My rig has been christened. No longer will I be limited by technical limitations. No longer will I have to miss out on betas because my system can’t run them. Now I can and shall go on to play and beat countless PC games.
I have been a proud console peasant for the bulk of my life. I like console games. I like controllers. I like plug and play technology. And as a person who genuinely hates FPS, MOBA, and MMO type games, there have very few PC exclusives that I’ve even wanted to play. The only games on PC I’ve really wanted to play in the last decade have been XBOX titles, since I don’t have one, retro games, and console games I could get much cheaper on PC.
I was afraid to build a PC. I knew all the reasons why people built them. I knew all the benefits of building one. But I was never really motivated. I had a crappy laptop that couldn’t run anything past small indie titles and really old ports/ROMs and that was enough for me. Sure there were disappointing moments such as when I would get beta codes for PC and not be able to play them. But for the most part I was happy with my console peasantry.
I first decided that I was going to build a PC in the summer of 2015. I remember the exact moment that I made this decision. I had just beaten The Witcher. I had never heard of the series prior to that summer but the special editions of both 1 & 2 were on sale on GOG and a friend demanded that I buy them. I was reluctant, but this friend guaranteed that I would love them. I purchased them and he was absolutely right. I played The Witcher and it was amazing. Even with the horrible controls in that first game, it was still a phenomenal plot based gaming experience. I was so impressed by the game that I immediately started up the second one. I was able to play the first game on my laptop so I assumed that I could run the second one. Sadly this was not the case. My laptop made it through the opening cinematic and then the game just sputtered to the point of unplayability. I even set the game to the minimum settings and it still wouldn’t run for me.
The Witcher 2 was ported to XBOX 360 but not PS3. I hadn’t owned an XBOX 360 for years and I wasn’t about to go buy one just to play this one out of date game. It was at this very moment that I decided to build a PC. After literally two years of saving, research, and planning, I finally built a powerful gaming rig that will allow me to play The Witcher 2. I built the highest end PC I could afford. It’s funny because what I needed to play the game I built for doesn’t compare to what I ultimately built. But I have no regrets and I write this blog post from my new gaming PC. The first PC I ever built for personal use.
Thank you to everyone who helped me with this endeavor through recommendations, links, guides, and encouragement that helped bring this system to life.
Usually I publish posts on here Wednesdays but I had to make sure this went live before Mass Effect: Andromeda dropped. As I write this, we have less than 16 hours till those of us not lucky enough to get advanced copies can take the plunge. In fact, there’s a good chance you will have played the game for several hours before you ever look at this. I wanted to get it published sooner, but I do the best I can with the time I have.
I’m not gonna critique the game right now. I don’t have a right to do that because I haven’t played it yet, because it isn’t out yet. Yet recently a lot of people, who also haven’t played the game, have taken it upon themselves to not only negatively critique the game but to also harass members of the Bioware staff because of it. Now this is absolutely ridiculous for so many reasons, but I’m not actually interested in discussing harassment in this post either, so I’ll just sum up my views on the subject as quickly as possible.
Harassment is wrong in any form. But let’s be clear about what harassment actually is. Criticizing a business because of issues you have with their products in a mature and respectable manner for legitimate, well thought out, and justified reasons is not harassment. Whether it’s by email, tweet, Facebook post, forum reply, blog post, YouTube comment, or any other means of communication is completely acceptable behavior. But let’s make sure we’re clear about what “mature and respectable manner for legitimate, well thought out, and justified reasons” means. Voicing a formal complaint about being unhappy with the quality of facial animations in a game with the entire focus of the post/comment being about facial animations with no curse words one time is not harassment. Voicing that same complaint with slurs, curse words, and threats of violence is harassment whether it’s once or a hundred times. Directing your complaints about a game, no matter how respectful and well thought out, at a private citizen, even if they are an employee of the development studio, is harassment. Even if you’re directing positive comments at them, it’s still harassment. It’s just harassment that they most likely aren’t going to be unhappy about.
Bioware is not made up of or represented by one person. It’s a large corporation that has official accounts that the public can easily send messages to in many forms via many platforms. There is no excuse to bother private citizens who work at a company about issues you have with the company and/or their performance. You wouldn’t send a message to the guy who flips your burgers at McDonalds if you saw a commercial from them you didn’t like. Private citizens deserve to be left alone regardless of where they work and what they do at work.
So just to be clear, it’s completely acceptable, but pretty stupid, to send messages to Bioware saying you’re unhappy about the facial animations, even though you haven’t yet played the game yourself yet, in Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s not acceptable to send messages to Bioware saying you’re unhappy with the facial animations in Mass Effect: Andromeda and that it’s the fault of a specific employee because they happen to be a woman. It’s not ok, but won’t be frowned upon to send positive messages about Mass Effect: Andromeda to an employee of Bioware via their private accounts. It’s completely, 100% unacceptable, disgusting, and outright offensive to send negative messages to a private citizen who happens to work for Bioware and blame them for something you’re unhappy with about Mass Effect: Andromeda, whether you played it already or not, especially to tell them it’s their fault because of something out of their control such as their gender, skin color, class, or literally any other personal identifier protected by the Constitution of the United States of America. Even if you’re not an American, these same rules still apply to you if you consider yourself a human being. Now that I’ve taken more time than I should have to in 2017 to talk about this issue, let me get to what I actually wanted to discuss in this post.
If you have an issue with the facial animations of humans in Mass Effect: Andromeda that is completely acceptable. If you think bad human facial animations is enough of a reason to say Mass Effect: Andromeda is a bad game and/or that’s the reason you’re not going to buy the game, you’re an idiot. And let’s be clear about something. This has nothing to do with Mass Effect: Andromeda. This has to do with people incorrectly judging games. A video game, especially an open world, plot based, AAA, is made up of more than just facial animations. In fact, as surprising as it may sound, it’s made up of more than just graphics. A game is made up of multiple parts, created by masses of people, over several months to years in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda. We aren’t talking about some small one man indie game where you can legitimately blame a problem on a specific person. And in the same vein of thinking, we aren’t talking about a game small enough to be judged solely on any one problem. Not to mention it’s probably the least important problem anyone could ever complain about.
Human facial animations? Who cares? Have we forgotten about Assassin’s Creed Unity? Are we just gonna ignore the many serious glitches in the original release of Skyrim? And who’s playing Mass Effect games for the humans in the first place? If you’re not in it for the aliens then you’re a xenophobic, narcissistic asshat and you should just run along back to your COD. Having not yet played the game yet, my biggest complaint so far is the fact that you have to play as a human . . . again. We did three games of that already. Bioware should have moved on to new playable races for the campaign by now. But whatever. The point is that to make the game breaking issue facial animations of one of many species in a huge, plot focused, open world game without considering any other pieces of the total work is kind of like saying you hate a movie because of the way they drew/wrote the title in the introduction. Most importantly, it shows a lack of ability to properly judge and/or review games.
I’m not saying that I’m the best game reviewer of all time, but I am quite experienced with multiple years of reviews under my belt. While I won’t say that there’s any one correct way to review games, there are a few things that every good reviewer should be doing when judging games. The first and most important is making sure to judge a game in its entirety and not just focus on one specific aspect. This is especially true when picking the score. Personally I hate that reviews are scored. It only detracts from the review because most people take the number as being more important than the words that led to that number. A large part of this comes from the fact that many people no longer take the time to actually read reviews, which is a shame. But in any case, the number should reflect a score for the totality of the product and not just represent a specific aspect of it. The second thing is that the number should accurately reflect what the reviewer wrote about the game. Not what the reviewer felt in his/her own head, but what they took the time to write down. The review should back up the score, not exist independently of it.
I haven’t looked at a single review for Mass Effect: Andromeda yet. They are coming out as I write this post. I’ve made the conscious decision not to read any reviews or check any scores because I plan on reviewing it myself and I don’t want my final thoughts and score to be manipulated by anyone else’s review. That’s the third thing that I believe should be standard practice for all reviewers. They should make a conscious effort not to see any scores for a game until they’ve already settled on their score and ideally finished writing their review. I always score games after I’ve finished writing the review. Again, the score should not dictate the review. The review should dictate the score.
While I don’t necessarily believe that everyone should write reviews the way I do, I do believe that every reviewer who takes that responsibility seriously should have a set in stone rationale for how they review games that can be presented upon request. I have shown mine many times and you can see it in practice with every review I write.
I believe that no aspect of game development is more important or more difficult than any other one when it comes to scoring a game. Many people would disagree, and that’s fine, but again, they should still be able to show a legitimate breakdown of how they score games and be able to justify it. I break a game up into what I believe are the five core aspects of game development: graphics, gameplay, sound, writing, and replay value. The order is irrelevant because all five aspects are weighted evenly for a maximum score of two. Combined they can equal a maximum score of 10. That is how I review games. I look at each aspect of a game in detail, score each one independently of the other four aspects, and add those five scores together for a total score. Now to be completely transparent, the website I write for currently only does integer scores so I always have to round to the nearest integer for my published score, but when it comes to actually choosing a number, I used decimals. I believe that this evenly weighted system is the fairest way to review and score a game, but I would never claim that all reviewers should be forced to use this system. Many people have differing beliefs about what’s important when scoring a game and weight it differently. But all legitimate reviewers should be able to agree that all five of the aspects I mentioned should be considered when reviewing a game and no single aspect can make or break a game unless the game is unplayable because of it. A game with a game breaking glitch with everything else perfect isn’t going to get an eight. But at the same time, a game with great gameplay and terrible to no writing shouldn’t get a 10 either. Neither game has performed to the best of the industry and thus both games should be scored to appropriately reflect a lack of perfection.
So as we move forward into the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, let’s all try to be fair judges of the game and remember that bad human facial animations cannot legitimately make a plot heavy, open world space exploration game with multiple species of characters, the majority of which have totally acceptable facial animations, a “bad game”. Just to clarify, I’m not saying it’s a good game at this point. I haven’t played it yet. What I’m saying is that if your only complaint about it is bad human facial animations and you consider yourself a reviewer or even just a legitimate gamer, then you have a responsibility to judge the game fairly and declare that other than those bad human facial animations it’s a good game. That means you should probably play it before voicing an opinion about it.
I’d love to see how other reviewers weight/score games so please let me know your system in the comments or link me to your own blog post where you explain this rationale in detail. You can get my full thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda once I’ve had a chance to thoroughly play the game and my review is complete.